Media day is not the time most players want to talk about the future. Especially when it feels so uncertain.
The day is a happy day. The energy about a new season usually overwhelms everyone. That went double for a young Orlando Magic team that sees a real opportunity to take a major leap this season and build off a promising finish to last year.
The Magic’s players want to enter training camp fully focused on the present and doing what they have to do to make this season a success. There were more than a few players who spoke about the team’s postseason ambitions but demurred by saying, they have to take that goal one step at a time or not skip steps in the process.
A lot of cliches about the present.
That is where the focus should be. But over a few players there is that cloud hanging. There is some uncertainty about the future.
Contract talks for Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz continue to hang in the background of the Orlando Magic’s preseason. Nobody would talk progress and it is unclear what their future witht he team might be.
As confident as the team is in its present and as much as the team is celebrating its continuity as kindling for this team’s growth, nothing is constant in the NBA. Even the patient rebuilding method from president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman is going to get tested this offseason with several key players entering free agency.
While everyone tried to avoid speaking too much about the future or the uncertainty of contract negotiations — a lot of players leave that up to their representatives and only jump in at the end to put pen to paper and confirm details — it was present. Everyone knows the piper is coming to call.
"“We have a lot to learn about our team this year,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said at the Magic’s media day. “I think it’s really important. Obviously, you guys track the CBA and the cap and know we have some hard decisions coming as all teams do. We have a lot to learn about our own team, how it fits and what drives winning for us.”"
This tracks with what we have anticipated is going to be part of the underlying storyline for the season. The Magic are still figuring out who they are and what a winning team with this group — specifically with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner as its centerpiece — looks like.
The Magic’s present is certainly about winning and taking a step up. But its future this year is about figuring out what a winning Magic team looks like.
It is not front and center, but the impending free agency decisions for Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony — and to a lesser extent Gary Harris and Chuma Okeke — hang over the team to some degree. It will be a constant throughline throughout the season.
Orlando took care of part of their free agency future Wednesday, announcing the team would pick up team options for the 2025 season on Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. This move is largely a formality with high-level players on rookie contracts. Suggs and Wagner would become eligible for restricted free agency after next season.
That part of the Magic’s future is settled. But that is also the thing the team can control.
The uncertainty about free agency is indeed centered on Fultz and Anthony’s contract futures. Their market value or what they are looking to get in free agency is still very uncertain. And it looks fairly likely that both players could end up betting on themselves and having good seasons to better set their market.
That was not their focus when both Fultz and Anthony were asked about their contract statuses. They want to get on the court and play and leave the business behind the scenes.
"“I’m not worried about that,” Cole Anthony said. “I’m just worried about training camp and just being the best version of myself I can.”"
Weltman said the team has great relationships with their representatives but he was not going to comment on any ongoing negotiations. The difficulty is trying to predict what their market values would be when they are still such young players with something to prove.
On top of that, the realities of the new CBA are still being processed. The anticipated new TV deal coming in the summer of 2025 also could make some contracts that seem cumbersome when signed this summer a bargain in a few years.
Weltman reiterated the focus is on learning the team and seeing how this group grows. It is a chance for Fultz and Anthony to prove themselves. From there, the team can get a grip on contract negotiations.
"“I’ve been through so much in my career that the best thing for me is to be able to play,” Fultz said at media day. “That’s all I’m focused on. I know if I focus on that everything else will take care of itself. I would love to be in Orlando for a long, long time. I’m just worried about every day, taking it one day at a time. I love this organization. Everything will fall in place where it needs to.”"
Every team faces these kinds of decisions as Weltman said. And a lot is still unclear about what the Magic will do or what these players want to do.
The team has a deadline of Oct. 23 to reach a new agreement with Cole Anthony or Chuma Okeke before the two sides would have to play out the season with the two rookie-scale players hitting restricted free agency if the Magic tender a qualifying offer. The Magic can extend Fultz or Harris’ contract at any time until the free agency moratorium begins.
The Magic will start tinkering with the roster. Everyone can sense it. Especially as the team improves. The future is always present in the NBA as teams grow and angle to climb the standings.
There is a lot weighing on the team.
"“Of course, it weighs on my mind just because it’s just natural,” Okeke said at media day. “It’s the nature of it. How I get back to the center is I love playing basketball. Whatever happens is going to happen. I just have to control what I can control and leave it at that.”"
That is probably the best place to leave contract negotiations for the moment. The players have to focus on the season ahead and let their play do the talking and be the biggest bargaining chip with whatever happens.
Everyone surrounding the Magic know how quiet the Magic operate with contract negotiations and offseason moves. They could spring a new deal on us at any moment or they could wait for the season. It is hard to tell what is most beneficial for both sides.
The future is ever-present, but the focus for now is on the present and getting ready for the season. It is not on the storm clouds on the horizon or the changes that could very well take hold.